Rose of the North
The city named Nopphaburi Si Nakhon Phing Chiang Mai (or Whiang Phing) was established by Phaya Mengrai Prince of Chiang Saen, in 1292. Two hundred years later, the city was subdued by a Burmese invasion and became Burma's vassal state in 1558. In 1774, Chiang Mai was liberated by King Taksin and became part of Northern Thailand and a capital of Lanna Thai, an independent kingdom know as 'Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields' within the fabled Golden Triangle.
Prince Phaya Mengrai built Chiang Mai on the left bank of the Ping River, surrounding it by a thick brick defensive wall and a moat. To this day very little has been left of the wall, where as the most has remained. The five city gates: Chang Phuak, Tha Phae, Chiang Mai, Suan Phueng and Suan Dok have been refurbished.
Presently, Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand and the principal city of Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is also a centre of art, antiques, and the ancient tradition of Lanna Thai. Chiang Mai possesses unique cultural characteristics blended with truly magnificent natural beauty. The most impressive part of Chiang Mai is its people, their hospitality and talent reflected in various silk, silver and wood handicrafts.
To date, some 300 temples have been constructed in Chiang Mai and its outskirts. Visitors should take the time to visit the most revered temples in the city, built during the noble Lanna Thai dynasty.
King Mangrai built Wat Ku Kam or Wat Chedi Liam at the site of Wiang Kum Kam, located just outside the city of Chiang Mai on the road to Lamphun.
King Mangrai conquered Lamphun in 1281 and two years later he began to look for a site to establish his new capital, Chiang Mai. During his surveying years, 1286-1295, he resided temporarily in Kum Kam. Upon the death of his beloved wife, the queen, he built this pyramidal pagoda in her memory. He donated the monument to the wat after its completion in 1288. Wiang Kum Kam, an ancient town founded by King Mangrai, is located at KM.4 on
Chiang Mai-Lamphun Road towards Saraphi District.
Wat Chedi Luang on Prapokklao Road is the site of a formerly massive pagoda that was unfortunately destroyed in the great earthquake of 1545. The temple was originally constructed in 1401 by the order of King Saen Muang Ma. In 1454, and later reigning King Tilokaraj enlarged the chedi to a height of 86 meters. After the earthquake, the chedi lay in ruins until 1991, when it was reconstructed at a cost of several million Baht. Finished in 1992, it is every bit as impressive as the original.
Wat Chedi Luang is located directly in Chiangmai center. It is one of the original temples of the city, having been built in the mid-14th century shortly after Chiangmai's founding by King Mengrai. The Chedi (pronounced Jedee) that towers into the sky at this Wat is a magnificent testament to Lanna (northern Thai) architecture and art, and as such is one of Chiangmai's top attractions for tourists. Wat Chedi Luang, however, is also home to another Chiangmai monument, the "Pillar of the City", a totem used in ancient Thai fertility rites.
The earliest known rituals were rooted in the ancient agrarian civilizations from before the dawn of history, and the most universal of these was the annual Ploughing Ceremony performed by King, Emperor, and Tribal Chief. This symbolic event in which the highest-ranking leader of a people honors and appeases the fertility rain spirit has always been performed in Asian cultures.
From the very earliest records of the ancient Chinese Empire we know that yearly the Emperor performed the Ploughing Rite, and that his failure to do so would have been the most potent of signs that he had lost the "Mandate of Heaven". But this ancient agrarian rite was not the domain of China alone. It has been one of the central features of rule in nearly all Southeast Asian cultures, from the early centers of Java and Palembang in the south to the great agrarian civilizations of the Mons, the Khmers and the Thai's in the central and the north. In Thailand, the Ploughing Rite has been directly connected with the significance and symbolism of "The Pillar of the City" concept since the coming of the Thai's from southwestern China in the 9th to 13th centuries.
The Pillar of the City is a real pillar, usually made of wood, but sometimes of stone. This pillar is an ancient Thai totem that is still highly significant today. Exactly when and how it originated is not known. There is a story that "A spirit came down from the heavens and gave the people a pillar to protect them", but a more likely explanation is that the pillar was erected as a ritual center for agrarian fertility rites in ancient Thai towns and kingdoms. Many old city pillars of Thailand have been unearthed in recent decades, and all had been located in the center of the old cities and just next to the seat of power in a king or chief. In addition, city pillars have been found in plenty at the sites of the ancient Tai Nanzhao Kingdom near Dali in Yunnan Province, China. It is believed that the Tai has brought the tradition with them when they migrated southward into Southeast Asia.
In present -day Thai ceremony, the Pillar of the City is pre-eminent in the annual Ploughing Rite performed by Thailand's monarch, and the Thai word for this ceremony held in Bangkok is "Sal Lug Muang", literally "Pillar of the City". This ceremony is held every year in the 6th lunar month for a period of seven days during which there is no moon. In the North, words from the ancient Pali Buddhist language are used to denote this ceremony, and it is called "Inthakin", again literally "City Pillar". Both the Sal Lug Muang and the Inthakin ceremonies have their counterpart in Thailand's Northeast, called the Boon Bung Fai or rocket Festival. These three regional ceremonies have different names, and to some extent are ritualized in different ways, but all three are the annual fertility rites of the Thai's.
The center of the North's Inthakin rite is Chiangmai. It is a momentous event held at the site of Chiangmai's City Pillar on the grounds of Wat Chedi Luang. The City Pillar is located on the grounds of Wat Chedi Luang because the temple itself marks the center of Chiangmai. In its original structure in the 14th century. Wat Chedi Luang was actually four separate and smaller Buddhist temples, all situated within 500 meters of the original site of the first Chiangmai City Pillar which was erected in 1296 A.D. That pillar was located at the exact epicenter of old Chiangmai, just beyond the present north wall of Wat Chedi Luang.
Today, Chiangmai's City Pillar stands in a walk-in spirit house at the fore of Wat Chedi Luang, to the left just inside the front gate. In comparison with the huge 14th-century grand Chedi Luang that reaches into the sky in the western sector of the temple grounds, the City pillar seems small. But to millions of Thais throughout Chiangmai Province it is a much larger than life symbol for the annual northern fertility rites held each year in the 6th lunar month, which is usually in May.
During the seven-day Inthakin period from May 15 - 22, 2004, more than 100,000 farmer and tradesmen from all parts of the North came to participate in Inthakin. One need only have witnessed a single evening at Wat Chedi Luang, where the grounds overflowed to the streets outside and one had to wait for hours just to catch a glimpse of the City Pillar, to understand and appreciate how very important this Thai totem and what it represents truly are. Northern people pay homage to the City Pillar during this Inthakin period and make merit, not to Buddha and not to any Buddhist inspired holy day or event, but rather to the City Pillar and the Spirit of the Rains. This northern Thailand's true fertility rite.
The people of the North bring flowers, incense and candles as offerings and place them before the pillar, asking for abundant rainfall for the coming year and for healthy and vigorous crops and harvests. They come everyday during the seven-day period, usually in groups form rural towns or groups of city-based merchants and entrepreneurs. Many of these groups parade through Chiangmai, carrying offerings past Tapae Gate, the traditional entryway to Chiangmai from the Ping River to the east, along the roads to the pillar at Wat Chedi Luang.
Inthakin is a rite that the northern Thai's take very seriously. The City Pillar is an integral part of the northern Thai culture and appeasing the rain spirit is a feature of animism that is still very much alive in the northern Thai psyche.
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